Croce del Travaglio Place
The fulcrum of everyday town life in Siena is Piazza Croce del Travaglio, whose name could derive either from the Medieval practice of erecting barricades made out of beams whenever there was fighting among the city’s factions or from a cross that once stood here pointing the way for pilgrims along the Via Francigena and towards the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala.
A short section of Vicolo San Pietro connects the Piazza Croce del Travaglio with Piazza del Campo and all the city’s main streets join at this point - Banchi di Sopra, Banchi di Sotto (both part of the Via Francigena) and Via di Città. Any visitor to Siena is therefore advised to start his tour of the city from this point and make the square his reference point in that it lies at the meeting point of each of the Terzi districts that traditionally divide the city.
Banchi di Sopra leads from the Croce del Travaglio into the Terzo di Camollia district (Via Banchi di Sopra, Via dei Montanini and Via Camollia), filled with the patrician town houses of the great Senese banking families. A small incursion into the Ovile and Fontebranda quarters will nonetheless reveal the more proletarian side of this district, once the home to generations of wool weavers and cloth dyers. St Catherine of Siena was born here and it is recorded that St Bernardino of Siena often preached here. This is also the area of Palazzo Tolomei, Siena’s oldest surviving dwelling whose facade was started in 1270, as well as the imposing basilicas of San Francesco (with fresco decorations by Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti) and Santa Maria in Provenzano or San Domenico, which stands out over the Fontebranda valley.
Banchi di Sotto, Siena’s second most important street, leads from the Croce del Travaglio into the Terzo di San Martino district, whose patron saint, Martin, is the protector of waywards and pilgrims. This street is in fact a section of the old Via Francigena, which runs from the Croce del Travaglio down towards Porta Romana. The term banchi used for these streets refers to the many trading stalls with which they were once lined, along with an abundance of craftsmen’s workshops. The Castellare degli Urgurgieri, known as one of Siena’s most magical spots, is along this street, as well as the Priora della Civetta contrada, the sumptuous Palazzo Piccolomini and the Logge del Papa – two of the few examples of Renaissance architecture in Siena.
Via di Città leads from the Croce del Travaglio to the Terzo di Città district, Siena’s religious and political heart. On one side there is the Duomo, with its spiritual combination of black and white marble, juxtaposed on the other side by Piazza del Campo – the highest expression of the wealth and serenity brought by the republican governors of Siena.
This is also the area where the earliest inhabitants of Siena first settled, protecting their houses with walled fortifications. Today Via di Città is lined with magnificent patrician town houses and qualified as the most densely populated area of town during the Middle Ages.